Avoiding the Freshman 15
This week our guest on #Collegecash is Dr. Melina, an internist and board-certified physician nutrition specialist (one of only a several hundred practicing in the United States). She specializes exclusively in nutrition for weight loss, disease prevention and treatment. She is an author and highly sought after public speaker who has been interviewed by several top newspapers and publications across the country.
Her first book, The No-Time-to-Lose-Diet, was released in January 2007 and the paperback version, The Busy Person’s Guide to Permanent Weight loss was released in May 2008. Her latest self-published book, The Calendar Diet – A month by month guide to losing weight while living your life, was released in March 2012.
The Freshman 15 refers to the extra 15 pounds that freshmen tend to gain in their first year of college. The average weight gain is around 4 pounds, but ranges from 2 to 40 pounds. 25% of students gained at least 5 pounds during the first two months.
What causes this weight gain? With changes in lifestyle and routine, college can be challenging for students to establish and stick to a healthy and exercise eating regimen. Unhealthful food/junk food on campus, snacking, limited money, late night meals, limited cooking in dorm room, alcohol, stress/boredom eating are all contributing factors. Also, negative experiences using campus recreation facilities, poor weather; lack of time/time management, motivation and social support for exercise play a role in the weight gain.
Unless students improve eating and exercise habits, they may gain even more weight during their sophomore, junior and senior years. Increased alcohol consumption and an increased level of stress often leads to more weight gain, especially in women.
To avoid the Freshmen 15, students need to build healthy habits from the start by eating more fruits and vegetables and less fried/fast food. Find a way to exercise regularly that is weather-proof and fits in your schedule and surround yourself with health and weight-conscious friends, as studies show that this can help.
When navigating the food hall, survey the whole buffet/dining hall first to decide ahead on choices; this can cut calories considerably. Don’t arrive famished at the dining hall; have a small snack like a piece of fruit or a small bag of nuts in between meals. Don’t feel like you have to eat with the crowd; pay attention and make good choices.
Late-night pizza and alcohol are common and hard to avoid. Having two pizza/alcohol late nights per week can lead to 1to 4 lbs. gain/month. Limit sugar-filled mixers and cocktails, as they can add hundreds of calories, so stick with beer/wine/diet mixers. On the pizza, skip the crust and take off some of the cheese (or order with light cheese and no meat if you can).
Few students are actually immune to the Freshman 15. College athletes are probably much less likely to gain weight and many young men and the few naturally-thin women are less likely to gain the weight. Freshman who live at home are less likely to gain weight due to more controlled environment.
Students must also be careful to avoid eating disorders. Bulimia can emerge as a way for some students to control or lose weight. Binge-eating disorder may emerge in those susceptible to exposure to high-risk foods (salty, high fat, sweet). Female athlete triad is a concern resulting in disordered eating, loss of periods, osteoporosis, etc.
To encourage healthy eating habits among college students, the university setting should support healthier eating and exercise and parents should address the issue as well. If possible, they should provide students with a mini-fridge and slow-cooker for healthier eating options and offer age-appropriate tips/recipes/healthier eating strategies.
A healthier lifestyle can actually make a difference in a student’s grades. Eating colorful fruits and vegetables and healthy fat can support brain function. Limiting high sugar/high refined carbohydrate meals and snacks can keep energy/brain function more stable. Drinking plenty of water can keep energy levels, concentration and mental performance at its best.